Foreign Minister Penny Wong has made her second trip to the Pacific since being sworn into government less than two weeks ago, this time heading to Samoa and Tonga.
On Thursday, Senator Wong announced Australia would enter an eight-year development partnership with Samoa, helping to tackle humanitarian and social issues. Australia will also donate a Guardian class patrol boat to Samoa next year, after the nation’s only patrol boat was wrecked.
Speaking at a joint press conference with Samoan Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata‘afa, Wong committed to a new partnership with the nation, and also spoke about the Australian government’s commitment to climate action, a central issue for many Pacific nations.
“A new Australian government has been formed. We want to put more energy and more resources into the Pacific. We have made a commitment to engage more closely and to listen respectfully,” Senator Wong said. “We understand we need to work together as part of the Pacific family in ways we are called on to do so, now more than ever.”
“I want to be very clear that we are deeply committed to taking stronger action on climate. We were elected with a mandate to do so and we understand how important climate change is to this Prime Minister and to the leaders and people of all Pacific nations.”
Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata‘afa expressed thanks for new patrol boat.
“I think it’s very generous on the part of the Australian government and people that they are gifting us yet another patrol boat despite the unfortunate circumstances of our last boat,”she said.
Wong’s second visit to the Pacific comes amid China’s rising influence in the region, and as China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Pacific nations this week.
A group of nations in the Pacific have just walked away from a trade and security deal with China, with Prime Minister Fiame saying the Pacific nations needed to jointly agree on proposals like it before signing on.
“Our position was you cannot have regional agreements if the region has not met to discuss it,” Mataʻafa said. “To be called into discussion and have an expectation that there will be an outcome was something we could not agree to.”
Before her visit to Samoa, Senator Wong released a statement reiterating her approach to building better relationships with nations in the Pacific region.
“We want to make a uniquely Australian contribution to help build a stronger Pacific family – through social and economic opportunities including pandemic recovery, health, development and infrastructure support, as well as through our Pacific labour programs and permanent migration,” Wong said.
“We will increase our contribution to regional security: we understand that the security of the Pacific is the responsibility of the Pacific family, of which Australia is a part.
“We will stand shoulder to shoulder with our Pacific family in addressing the existential threat of climate change. And we will deepen cultural and sporting ties.”